Even though Carrie and I are no longer living in Singapore, that doesn’t mean we have stopped traveling. It just means our trips are less frequent and potentially less exotic (although I love Los Angeles, New York, and other cities in the US they just aren’t as exotic as trips abroad).
However, once or twice a year (hopefully more) we should find time and money to venture out of the US and do some international travel. I will continue to blog our trips and likely some of our adventures in San Francisco.
In the long term I will update the blog with some tips, tricks, and recommendations of our travels but for now I will continue to focus on recapping our most recent trips. As evidenced below by our most recent trip:
A one week sojourn to Egypt.
Future postings will be slightly different as I am trying out a new format to help people with their travel planning and questions. Similar to prior trips I will be posting detailed recaps but I will have a more robust summary post of the trip with with details about hotels, restaurants, tour guides, etc for easy access to information. The post will have links to the detailed itinerary and photo posts if you do not want to flip through all the posts separately.
Below is the post and only a few photos to whet the appetite.
Trip Location: Egypt (specifically Cairo, Luxor and other cities during a cruise on the Nile)
Trip Dates: March 15, 2012 through March 25, 2012
(While we left the US on March 15th we didn’t arrive in Egypt until March 16thand left very early on March 25th)
Quick Summary Impressions: The ancient Egyptian sites are truly world wonders and must see sights on the bucket list. Photos and descriptions in books do not do them justice. Also, Modern Egypt with all its warts has some redeeming qualities as well. I would definitely go back as despite the bad press, the chaos, and the dirt of the cities, Egypt is a safe, fun, and exciting place to travel with more to offer than our week could hold. You should go now if you want to avoid other tourists and have the place to yourself with great travel deals (don’t go in the summer due to the intense heat).
Trip Itinerary (with links to the detailed posts):
A few of the Top Photos
Summary Comments of Trip:
As mentioned above, the temples, the pyramids, and the ancient Egyptian artifacts and sights are truly awe inspiring pieces of architecture and art. They have been on my list of things to see for a long time and my expectations were exceeded. The trip had no down time, but each temple offered a new insight into the Pharaonic times and it was important to spend some time in Cairo.
Cairo is a dense and chaotic metropolis with 20 million plus people living there. It seems to hum most hours of the day but really takes off at night when people are milling about everywhere. It can be dirty but is also colorful in its own way. That being said it has a significant amount of modernizing left to do (assuming it wants to).
The cruise on the Nile was relaxing and provided access to the harder to reach temples as well as a glimpse into the countryside of Egypt. It was a great way to travel and highly recommended.
The trip was comprehensive for the ancient Egyptian sights but I would still go back to Egypt. I could stare at the Pyramids for another day or three and there is still scuba diving in the Red Sea and exploring the Sinai Peninsula on my list.
Also, I would love to return to Egypt to see what impact the revolution had a few years out. People seemed to be full of hope and I wish them the best with new opportunities for the country. It was fascinating to experience a minor slice of the culture and I want to see how this develops.
Finally, now is a great time to go as I always felt safe (yes even when running alone in the morning around Cairo) and there are some amazing deals for travel, as evidenced by the five star trip we were able to afford.
Top Sights/Activities(not in any order):
- Pyramids & Sphinx
- Abu Simbel Temple
- Luxor (Karnak Temple and Luxor Temples)
- Egyptian Museum
- Relaxing on the Nile (Felucca and Cruise Boat)
- Smoking Seesha and drinking Mint Tea – with some Egyptian food thrown in.
- Cairo (modern and old cities) – gives you a sharp contrast to Ancient Egypt
- Philae Temple
- Bargaining in the markets (the Egyptians are pros)
- Valley of the Kings and Queens
Mena House Oberoi, Cairo – a superb hotel located right next to the Pyramids. We literally had a view of the Pyramids from our room. The location is a little far out from Cairo if you want to enjoy being in town but the restaurants here are good, the service is superb, and oh did I mention that our large room had a view of the Pyramids.
Four Seasons at First Residence, Cairo – this was service par excellence (I received a bottle of water and towel from the front desk after running around Cairo in the morning). Besides the service the entire experience was top notch. The rooms were large with view of the Nile or the Pyramids. The bed was extremely comfortable and felt just right after a long day touring temples and traveling. The buffet breakfast was the best of the trip. The only downside is that there are two Four Seasons and Taxis can get confused (as we experienced firsthand).
Disclaimer on the hotels (actually this applies to the entire trip): We likely wouldn’t have stayed in these hotels due to the high price if the deal hadn’t been so good due to the slow tourist economy. However, the quality and service was superb and I would recommend them if you are willing to spend the money and after a long trip the bed at the Four Seasons was amazing and waking up to view the Pyramids was a unique treat.
Khan El-Khalili (Mena House Oberoi) – above average food and nice décor with superb service. This place was good and if you are staying at the hotel I would highly recommend it. If you are not staying at the hotel then it is a long ways to travel and I wouldn’t recommend a special trip just to eat here.
Andreas – Cairo/Giza – Two words: “roasted chicken”. This is the highlight here and while the mezzes were a great starter and the outdoor garden was a good respite from Cairo’s chaos, the chicken was the star. If people are in the neighborhood or on their way through, then I would recommend a stop here.
Moghul Room (Mena House Oberoi) – excellent Indian food complimented well by stellar service and kitschy but fun décor. This is billed as the best Indian food in Cairo and while I haven’t tried others, it was certainly very good. Spicy enough to edge towards authentic yet not so overly spicy as to scare away tourists. Ordering to share was nice and while the price was high, it was a good place to go if you are having an Indian food craving.
Abou El-Sid – Cairo – kitschy, tourist but excellent are just a few ways to describe this place. It was filled with a variety of expats, tourists, and locals with more expats and locals than tourist when we were there. The food was some of the best Egyptian food on the trip although we did over order and I would recommend one main dish fewer than the number of people you have and make sure to get the mezzes platter to share.
Seasons (Four Season First Residence) – white tablecloth and high end with great presentation and stellar service. The food has a range but veers more Italian than anything and it was excellent. I would recommend coming here for the food and the view over the Nile but the price is more special occasion than every day. Also, this had the best breakfast buffet of the trip.
M/S Sun Boat IV – with the private moorings, the nice rooms, the size of the boat, the impeccable service, and quality of food I highly recommend this boat. The sights depend on the itinerary but the quality of the boat and staff could not have been better. The rooms were decent sized and the shared areas of the boat were well maintained and great for lounging, reading, swimming, etc.
Other things to recommend:
Abercrombie and Kent – better known as A&K in the travel industry, this company is one of the best known luxury tour operators worldwide. I was very impressed with their service and logisitical coordination of the trip. The quality of the tour guide (Egyptiologist), the attentiveness to all the guests (allowing changes, flexibility, and following up with any issues) was beyond compare. If you have a chance to use A&K on any trip worldwide they are one of the best in the business and this trip proved it. We had interaction with the tour guides, the drivers, the trip coordinators, the country head, as well as numerous other staff and evertything went off without a hitch. Note: I normally travel without using a tour group but traveling in Egypt with this group was great.
Other Tips and Tricks of Egypt:
Bargain, Bargain, Bargain – there isn’t a fixed price for anything including most of the time taxis. You have to make sure you start way lower (at least 50% and I would say 75%) than the first asking price and really practice your skills if you want to engage the sellers at the temples and on the street. There is a little bargaining in stores but it can still be done if you really want to save a few dollars. But don’t be overzealous as the merchants do need the money as the volume of tourists is way down.
Use the Meter – as mentioned above the Taxi cab drivers prefer not to use the meter and instead want a negotiated fixed price. The usage of a set price in some ways could help you if you know the going rate and get stuck in traffic that would otherwise drive the meter up. However, it is much less stressful for most travelers to use the meter, so make sure you look for the white and black checkered taxis and insist that they use the meter (by that I mean ask about six times in the first minute). We always got our drivers to use the meters but we didn’t ever get change.
Get small bills/change – call it tips, call it baksheesh, or just call it chump change but whatever it is you will definitely need small bills and One Egyptian Pound coins fairly often. You will need them for the bathroom attendants, the people who carry your bags, and random people in temples that truly help you (not to be confused with every person in the temple that wants a hand out). Also most shops, taxis, and local restaurants can have trouble breaking large bills, so make sure you have small things on handy or don’t expect change. Get change at the hotel front desk.
Get it in writing– as always in a country where you don’t know the language or the writing system. Make sure you get a business card of your hotel and directions to any location written by your hotel or another trustworthy local. (Note: This is not always fail safe as we ended up at the wrong Four Seasons despite having a hotel business card).
In summary, it was amazing and not at all over hyped, the sights were stunning and we were happy to be able to share this adventure with family and to really soak up old and new Egypt. We would go back and highly recommend you go.